"Fair Game" exposes the high cost of telling the truth in a time of fear

"The British Government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa."


You remember what happened after that.  Wilson penned that op-ed in the NY Times in July of 2003, three months after the war began, in which he said that he was the source for the CIA verifying that the president's reference to Niger, where Wilson had been sent to investigate the rumor, was untrue.  Three days later at a White House press briefing, press secretary Ari Fleischer (played in the film as a total nincompoop) called the words "incorrect," as did Condi Rice and George Tenet in the days to follow (interestingly, the political fact-checking organization factcheck.org says the "final word on the 16 words may have to await history's judgement).


What isn't in dispute was how conservative columnist Bob Novak, in a column attacking Wilson, outed his wife, Valerie Plame, as a CIA agent.  What the film shows is how Wilson's exposure tragically jeopardized the lives of Iraqi scientists who had cooperated with her and the CIA who were trying to verify information about Saddam Hussein and Iraq's capacities to have weapons of mass destruction.  One such character laughs when asked by his Iraqi sister now living in the states such questions — he says Iraq had gotten rid of such weapons in the 1990s.


The rest is history.  The film depicts Wilson as a true hothead with a massive ego who sought the fight, while Wilson preferred to stay in the shadows.  It also heavily features the only member of the Bush administration to pay any price for going after Plame — Scooter Libby, Dick Cheney's chief of staff, who was found guilty of several counts of perjury in the investigation by Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald.  But he was never found guilty of leaking Plame's name.  We also get a few scenes of the man who was once called "Cheney's Cheney," David Addington.


As we ultimately learned in real life (and is revealed in the film's credits) the real leaker, the raison d'etre for the entire investigation, was Richard Armitage. But as it was reported back in 2006, , Armitage revealed her name inadvertently in a casual conversation with Novak, and it is not clear if he knew her identity was classified at the time.


This being a Hollywood production, there has to be a happy ending.  Director Doug Liman depicts this as being the Wilson's becoming united as a family, and with Valerie Plame Wilson agreeing to join her husband in fighting to protect her name.


The ending is quite moving, as Liman cuts from Watts playing Plame testifying before the House of Representatives to the powerful presence of the real Plame doing so via C-SPAN footage.


One light note: Joe Wilson vs. Sean Penn's depiction of Joe Wilson's hair.  In the New York Post, Kyle Smith, one of the most interesting writers around but who unfortunately breaks out his conservative ideology whenever he feels a liberal agenda being offered by a film, mocked Penn (a hated figure amongst the right) for his hair in the film.


Even Valerie Plame herself, living comfortably in New Mexico with her family, tells the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that Joe has far better hair than Mr. Penn:




"Sean did a great job as Joe, with the exception that Joe has way better hair -- he does -- and he also has a really good sense of humor, which wasn't allowed to play out."


Viewers can make up their own mind about who has the better hair.  Fair Game is definitely one of the best films of the fall


Doug Liman's Fair Game, an adaptation of former CIA agent Valerie Plame's book of the same name (as well as her husband Joe Wilson's The Politics of Truth), was released this weekend in the Tampa Bay area, where it's now playing at the Veterans 24 in Hillsborough county and in Baywalk in St. Petersburg.  Though it's the definitive biographical story from Wilson's perspective of what happened to them leading up to and following Plame's identity being leaked in a column by the late Robert Novak, it's not the first American film that's dealt with this story.

Rod Lurie's terrific 2008 film Nothing But the Truth (that basically went straight to video) was a fictional depiction of the Plame/Wilson saga. That film focused as much on the Robert Novak character, who in the movie actually is a female journalist who also ends up sort of playing former New York Times reporter Judith Miller (the journalist ends up going to jail because she won't reveal her source — in real life Miller spent 85 days in jail before revealing that Scooter Libby provided Plame's name to her).  In Nothing But the Truth the Plame character is played by Vera Farmiga.  Judith Miller's character was also depicted earlier this year in Paul Greengrass's Green Zone by the actress Amy Ryan, which had a storyline about a major reporter realizing she is being used as a propaganda machine to sell the Iraq war.

But back to Fair Game, which features two of our finest actors, Naomi Watts and Sean Penn, at the top of their game playing the power couple.  It's a searing drama that is sympathetic to the couple and what happens to them personally after the Bush administration went after Wilson, the former ambassador who set off the chain of events after his infamous New York Times  op-ed where he outed President Bush for those famous 16 words in his 2003 State of The Union address :

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